Saturday, 19 September 2009

House of Flying Daggers....and well behaved toddlers.

She may be the beauty or the beast
May be the famine or the feast
May turn each day into a Heaven or a Hell

Me, I'll take the laughter and her tears
And make them all my souvenirs
For where she goes I've got to be
The meaning of my life is

She (Tous Les Visages de L'Amour) by Charles Aznavour and Herbert Kretzmer

Not sure what you would expect from that preface. It is not really relevant to this posting. I just love that song and tonight, after a couple of glasses of an exceptionally nice red vine, I was singing it at the top of my lungs, whilst cooking in the kitchen. My poor family. My poor neighbours.

We all know that a Chinese restaurant full of Chinese people is a good sign. I am talking about somewhere like London of course, not China.

But in London, that is a good sign. And my favourite dim-sum place-Royal China is one of those trusted and reliable places.

And whenever I go there, I never fail to notice just how well the Chinese children behave. OK, OK, calm down! I appreciate there must be some really badly behaved Chinese kids somewhere out there, but for some reason, the best behaved ones clearly visit my favourite restaurant, on the days I do.

Once, a long long time ago, in some other life of mine, when I thought I would rather have my ovaries surgically removed than breed, we arranged to meet a bunch of people for a relaxing lunch at Royal China.

In that other life, I used to be incredibly judgmental towards people with badly behaved kids. I just had no clue. So, that day, I looked at our friends with their small boy, who screamed and climbed on his father’s neck, whilst kicking and scratching, and thought: How could anyone, ever allows their child to behave like this?

If the parents of the boy bothered to glance around, they would have noticed that almost at every other table there were Chinese children of various ages. They sat there quietly, gripping their chop sticks, chewing and staring in horror at our friends’ possessed toddler.

Why is that, I thought to myself, that those kids are so well behaved? Is it a cultural thing? Do Chinese parents, even the ones who have been living in the UK all their lives, share some secret parenting skill, passed on from generation to generation, that makes their kids sit properly at the dinner table? That makes them respect the adults?

A director of a college told me once, that she felt she had no real power any longer. She said, a few years ago, she would have been able to walk up to a group of fighting students and they would have stopped and listened to her. Because she was the college director. Not anymore. These days, she says, they would tell her to F off.

Because they can.

Because, the truth is- in this country, there is absolutely nothing adults can, or would dare to do that kids would worry about.

And it starts when they are little. You are not supposed to tell them off too much. Don’t be too strict- that might limit their creativity. Don’t shout at them too loudly, don’t say NO too often…
Do not smack their bottom-even if that bottom deserves a good smack. And that is with your own children.

Imagine trying to be a teacher in the country where you have no power over your students.

I am not sure why I brought this up tonight. Maybe because my own child has started pushing the boundaries every single day.

Yes.-- I say to her.
Noo-o-o!- she shouts back, stamping her little foot.

I keep reassuring myself that since I managed to train a Rottweiler, I surely should be able to train a little girl. But some days, I despair. I still am (a little) judgmental in some extreme cases of particularly badly behaved kids, but I do understand now just how hard this game can be.

PS I dedicate this posting to a good friend, who is about to have twins. I hope her parents share some Chinese parenting wisdom with her, because personally, I would no recommend the current western practices.

Oh, and I just can't draw children, can I? This one looks like it might be a husband having a tantrum on the shop floor, whereas it is meant to be a toddler.


  1. I guess it is not only an UK issue. Here in Perú, I've seen children like the ones you describe more than once: children screaming at a restaurant, children doing whatever they want to at while waiting their pediatrician... and the parents just looking at all the mess, speechless. And don't you dare to say anything at all.
    Everything has to have a limit, I guess.

  2. I agree with you 100 %, here in the west, its' tricky to raise a child obedient and respectful towards the elder, and I used to be pretty judgmental and thought it was all parents' fault when kids talked back or acted up. But having children of my own and seeing what kids are exposed to (stupid TV shows, peer pressure) I came to the conclusion that raising kids with good character and manners is not only parents' responsibility but the whole society because no matter how much you teach them and train at home, once they see that other kids get away with a lot of things, they will push the limits too. In oriental cultures (in our Azeri culture as well) there is a big issue with the age and people are treated differently depending on their age, and even special titles are added to the names to show respect (khanum, muallim, aga etc) and children surely perceive that difference too. Here, you treat everyone equally calling people of any age by their first name, laughing with them or standing up to them no matter whether they're older or younger. I guess it's a coin with 2 sides: the oriental attitude teaches respect while the western attitude teaches assertiveness and straightforwardness. PS: the drawing is great! and where do you find time to write and illustrate!

  3. @ Gabriela: I know. Happens everywhere. Probably in China too. :)

    @Sevda- Agree completely...

  4. Thank you for the dedication! Totally agree with you. I think J will be quite strict, and I can always leave them with my folks for a bit - they were certainly super strict with me, but I'm still wilful and a little creative!

  5. It sounds ridiculous, but I remember a couple of years ago I heard on TV that a daycare teachers called the police because they couldn't deal with 4 year old girl. It is clear to everyone that the problem was not to deal with the child, but to find some way that will not allow them to be sued.
    But anyway these kids grow up and they become normal adults that don't know how to deal with their own kids :)))

  6. American kids are mostly very polite around adults. I say “mostly” because there is an exception to every rule of course. On the playground by themselves kids shout and push each other. But around adults they are almost always respectful. My daughter’s school friends address us as Mr. & Mrs. “our last name” & call me "ma’am". By comparison, my ex-Soviet immigrant friend’s kids call me by my first name and address me as “ты”. I cringe every time I hear it but I can’t say anything of course. That would be… rude.

  7. No child is born behaving badly, it is the parents responsibility to teach the child right from wrong. Unfortunately in UK at least there are large numbers of parents who do not care what their children are doing, or who think that children should be able to express themselves. There is an old proverb that says 'in the presence of Adults, children should be seen and not heard' and although I do not 100% agree with this, there is a time and a place when children should show good manners

  8. I wouldn't overestimate the virtues of oriental upbringing... I've met kids from asian and azeri families that were quite a handful to say the least.

    Totally agree on what you write about the limitations imposed on us by overprotective western society. Teachers are afraid to be sued by parents. Parents are afraid to be sued by Social Services Department. Hell, parents are even afraid to be sued by their children!

    And, as a result: "spare the rod - spoil the child".

  9. Riyad: Thank you, I was thinking of that expression but forgot how it goes. :)))

    It must be hard to get it right.

    You don't want kids getting abused, and Social services in the UK get enough grief for every missed case. And, if you believe the news, they miss quite a few.

    The UK tends to go into extremes. They have a scary child abuse case, so they quickly tighten all the ropes around parenting in general. They let one dangerous immigrant in- quick! close the borders! for everyone! Nothing in between. Everything has to be to a crazy extent, unfortunately. Maybe that is the only way to get things under control? who knows.

  10. Having raised 2 children in the US, I can say that it is damn hard to do the job, especially when you come from another culture. I am not unhappy at the job I have done, actually quite proud, but it has not been a bed of roses. I think that's the key: being ready to put in the effort and realizing the sacrifices that it entails. I have seen badly raised kids all over and I know in my heart, it is definitely because of the parents' refusing to act responsibly and do what it takes.